Last summer I discussed the issue of reverse importation, focussing specifically on the case of Persona 4. When situations like that happen, they can often redirect focus from the content itself. So let’s talk about the Sentai Filmworks release of the first volume of the Persona 4 anime and whether or not it’s worth your time – and your money.
The plot of Persona 4 follows close to its video game source material – transfer student Yu Narukami finds his new life in rural Inaba is far from boring when he and his classmates gain the ability to travel to an alternate universe inside the TV. There, with the help of a strange creature named Teddie, they must use manifestations of their deepest selves known as Persona to fight Shadows and solve a serial murder case sweeping the once quiet town.
For those who haven’t played the game and feel a little lost, don’t worry – the series does an adequate job explaining the new world and its mechanics. At points, it even makes light of the mechanics or the very fact that it’s based on a game (evident in the series’ commercial eyecatch, which displays the protagonist’s ever-increasing personality statistics). For fans of the game, this will likely be an amusing bonus, but its effect on newcomers may be hit or miss.
The story itself moves at a brisk pace, giving just enough time to the action scenes and the characters’ own struggles to overcome their personal demons. The mystery at the center of the story is interesting enough, but the characters of Persona 4 are its strongest point. The game Persona 3 had an arguably more intense plot than Persona 4, but Persona 4′s cast arguably blended better. The anime does a good job adapting what made this cast particularly charming. The most interesting change is one that probably couldn’t be helped – the silent, nameable protagonist from the game is now Yu Narukami and has been given a moderate, yet distinct personality.
The dub is fairly well-done, reuniting many voice actors from the original game. The returning voice cast is given a chance to expand their characterizations this time around. Johnny Yong Bosch does especially well as Yu Narukami, who didn’t have much in the way of voice work in the game, but is presented as a cool-headed, quietly sarcastic teenage boy in the anime. For veterans of the game, the replaced voice actors may take a little getting used to. Erin Fitzgerald quickly settles in and gives a bit of attitude and edge to the character of Chie. Sam Riegel as Teddie may take some getting used to, but it isn’t for lack of trying and he too settles in to the new role by the end of the set (with a particularly amusing performance in episode 11!)
While absent from the Blu-Ray, the Japanese voice track still appears on the DVD sets. This Japanese dub is fairly typical but solid, with big name seiyuu like Daisuke Namikawa, Yui Horie, Kappei Yamaguchi, Rie Kugimiya, and Romi Paku among the main cast. The biggest problem with the Japanese dub may simply be the fact that many Western fans who played the English game first may not be used to the Japanese voices, but it’s a concern easily overcome. The DVD sets also contain Japanese episode commentary.
So is the first set of the Persona 4 anime worth buying? If so, should you go with DVD or Blu-Ray? If you’re a fan of the game, the series is absolutely a must-buy! While the Blu-Rays look nice, fans will have to decide on their own whether they value the dual languages or the nicer viewing experience more. For me, the DVDs (which run a little more expensive, ostensibly due to the added dub) were worth it.
For newcomers, Persona 4 provides a solid viewing experience. While the action may play out a little “monster-of-the-week” in this first set, it’s played out with interesting characters who continue to grow as the series progresses. Newcomers won’t feel lost amongst a sea of terminology or story points left out from the transition. I highly recommend this series, but if you’re on the fence, check out an episode or two on Hulu (or grab one off of iTunes if you prefer an English dub) and see for yourself.
Persona 4: The Animation Collection 1 is available now. You can also find episodes on iTunes dubbed.